For John Wall, it’s been a long time coming. Appearing in his first NBA game in over two years, the five-time All-Star impressed with 22 points, accomplished on 8-of-20 shooting including 2-of-8 from beyond the arc, nine assists, six rebounds and one steal Thursday night. Wall’s Rockets debut was delayed by a mandatory weeklong quarantine, the result of teammate KJ Martin’s COVID-19 diagnosis. Wall and fellow newcomer DeMarcus Cousins were both deemed close contacts despite testing negative for the virus. Prior to the COVID scare, each had been active for Houston’s preseason slate.
Wall’s rust was evident at times, particularly in the turnover department (he was guilty of five miscues), though from a macro perspective, the 30-year-old’s performance Thursday contained far more positives than negatives. Rather than being eased in as many would have expected coming off a 736-day layoff, rookie coach Stephen Silas worked Wall to the bone, playing him an exhausting 37 minutes in Houston’s 122-119 victory.
Some wondered whether Wall’s elite athleticism, a trait that elevated him to superstardom over his decade-long stint in Washington, would still be apparent after years of injuries including a dreaded Achilles' tear in 2019. Well wonder no more. Wall looked plenty spry against Sacramento, punctuating a Rockets fast-break with this emphatic slam off a feed from James Harden.
Achilles' injuries used to be the kiss of death for athletes but that narrative is changing in a hurry with Wall and Kevin Durant both looking good as new in their returns this season. Despite Wall’s heavy workload Thursday night, the Rockets are still expected to be cautious with the former Kentucky Wildcat. How that manifests itself remains to be seen, though it’s a safe bet he won’t be appearing in back-to-backs (Houston’s first-half schedule includes two such occurrences). Wall could also see his practice reps scaled back, particularly as the season wears on.
While Wall has so far made the most of his change of scenery in Houston, similar success has eluded the player he was traded for, Russell Westbrook. Despite a slew of strong statistical performances—Westbrook is averaging a triple double (19.8 points, 12.8 rebounds and 12.3 assists per game)—those numbers have yet to translate into wins with the Wizards dropping to an NBA-worst 0-5 following Thursday’s loss to Chicago in a New Year’s Eve matinee.